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[TR] North Cascades - Nooksack Tower / Price Glacier 8/5/2014

dave schultz

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Trip: North Cascades - Nooksack Tower / Price Glacier


Date: 6-10 August 2014


Trip Report:

My friend Ken from South Carolina, who I had met in 2011 when I first started climbing, was originally planning a guided week-long trip to the North Cascades. Some of his plans fell through, and he ended up deciding to not go guided but instead partner up with me for a week, and save some coin in the process. We went back and forth on route options and ultimately decided that if we had no weather issues we would go after Nooksack Tower, Price Glacier to Shuksan, and Baker’s North Ridge. When he arrived at 11pm on August 5th (Tuesday) the weather was predicted to be perfect every day in the forecast with no end in sight - we were stoked. We planned on four days and one fluff day for the first two objectives with a car re-supply at Artist Point and two days for Baker. My feet from Olympus in a day were still pretty thrashed, but felt good enough to hike and actually improved on day two and three; otherwise we both were in great shape and ready.


Early on the 6th (Wednesday) we sorted gear and packed our kits: five days of food and all the rock and ice gear for Nooksack and Price. With the weather window we decided to go sans tent, and if it rained we would have a one-way wet ticket back to the trailhead. We drove up to Heliotrope TH and stashed a bike to ride back down to the road at the end of the trip to hitch a ride back to Artist Point to recover my truck. We then got our backcountry permits and drove to the Nooksack TH and dropped all the gear and Ken off. I drove to Artist Point and dropped the truck and biked back down to the Nooksack TH. We started the hike in around 1:30pm – a little later than I thought we would start, and a LOT later than I wanted to start, but with Ken’s super late arrival it was what we had to work through. We found the infamous log crossing without too much trouble (I walked, Ken butt-scooted) and moved up the slope onto the ridge north of Price Lake. We were hoping to make it to the saddle below Nooksack Tower but time didn’t allow, and we were forced to bivy on the last section of rock along the ridge, leaving about 0.75 miles of glacier travel plus the climb up the couloir to the start of the route.


The 7th (Thursday) we got up fairly early, but wanted some light for the glacier crossing – this put us behind schedule, but we also knew we had our day of fluff and had no problem working into it. We made fairly fast movement through the crevasses and stashed one of our five pickets, all of our trekking poles, most of our ice screws, and a bunch of other heavy useless items (GPS, extra batteries, big fuel canister, etc) in a protected spot below the shrund. We worked our way up the couloir to the top where we got our last resupply of running water and around noon I led a short snow/ice pitch up and transitioned onto the rock and began working up and right. At this point I knew we would be bivying at some point on the route (thus burning our fluff day). I led a second steep pitch, and then Ken led two blocks of simul-climbing up and leftward, passing what appeared to be a prominent notch. At this notch we had fantastic views of the Price, and I decided to see if I dropped my phone whether we would find it on the Price (more later). Ken actually took a small fall on his third lead when some of the rock broke away near chest level, having no injury we were extremely lucky. He came down, and I climbed through the nasty section, and then it was three more long pitches to the summit. During these pitches I mistakenly dropped my stash of pitons, which initially was thought as an “oh shit” moment since I don’t have them, but then was relieved because I didn’t need them and they were heavy (more later). We summited shortly before sunset and signed the register (which was amazing to read though, having been placed there I think in the ‘80s and JasonG’s being the last entry and only a couple entries per year with some years having no entries at all). Without seeing a single acceptable bivy site on the way up, we started moving the summit rocks around and actually set up two very comfy spots (fortunately there were lots of really small rocks to make a nice semi-flat/smooth platform, that we then padded with the rope, clothes, and anything else); I literary slept on top of the register with my sleeping pad partially hanging over an edge with who knows how much vertical relief below. Needless to say we both slept roped in and extremely well, had amazing views of sunrise at probably the most amazing bivy site I’ve ever been on.


On the 8th (Friday) we got up and were not in any exceptional hurry to get down as we had all day and were not going to start Price until the following day. We made at least ten rappels on the rock, backing up where needed and adding several biners to the stations only had one single small rappel ring. On our 2nd rappel one of our two ropes took a rock fall that nearly severed it. We were able to butterfly knot the rope and continues to make full 60m rappels when we were in terrain that allowed passing the knot around the rappel device, otherwise we did some shorter rappels or used the broken rope as a tag line. We dropped back onto the snow about 100 vertical feet below the top of the couloir and made three 60m rappels off snow bollards back to the easy snow below the final shrund. We were soon at the saddle, feeling great, with lots of running water and great bivy sites. We were in bed early in anticipation for a big day on the Price.


The 9th (Saturday) we got up fairly early, roped up and moving out onto the Price around 6am. We traversed from the saddle into the lower section of the Price without gaining or loosing much elevation. I led two long pitches in and around the lower highly fractured and broken sections of ice to an area just below from what our photos indicated to be a huge snowfield. I then led one enormous running belay (probably between 6 and 8 rope lengths) to a safe section. I recollected the gear and led anther long running belay (probably 4 rope lengths) through the middle gut of the icefield, winding its way in and around lots of broken glacial ice (even through an ice tunnel) ending in another safe spot – we climbed this section extremely fast due to the highly dangerous objective hazard in the area. It was three or four more sections of simuling (some short, one really long) that led us to the lower of the two final bergschrund. I led a wandering pitch down and into the lower shrund that popped us out above and on the right side of the snow field between the two shrunds, and led us to the final one. Of note, we never found my phone, bummer – there were lots of good pictures on it.


The final shrund was impassable and was a huge “WTF now” moment, essentially what I had feared the whole time. The ramp that we had seen and planned on taking was guarded by a large open crevasse with approximately 35 feet of about 100-degree disgusting, rotten, holed nasty glacial snow/ice – not interested in climbing that. We looked at the options: 1) turn back 2) climb the rock on the right side which looked steep and not easy plus in the shooting gallery of shit from above and then regain the snow field 3) climb the rock immediately left of the ramp which looked climbable up high, but was guarded by the same steep and not well protectable rock down below and gain access to the ramp or 4) move far left and climb through a funky ice section and up a very steep snow slope (about 70+ degrees) to gain access to rock which would then hopefully deposit up on the snowfield somewhere above. Considering I had no pitons; we chose option four, and it worked out well and as hoped (with pitons I might have more thoroughly investigated option 2 or 3 as they would been able to protect the transition and initial moves up to the blockier terrain above). It ended up being a full 60m rope length of ice and snow to a pretty good anchor in the snow just below the rock. I then led one pitch up the mixed ice, snow, and rock gully and transitioned onto the rock and traversed rightward along more undesirable and forgettable rock to what appeared to be the only adequate anchor site where I set up and anchor and brought Ken up. We had reached the upped shrund around 230pm or so, but had then burned a lot of time while looking around at options and then actually climbing the two pitches to this point; and it was here while I was maximizing efficiency by taking the gear back from Ken that we found the quote of the trip. Me: “my hand has never been as close to another man’s dick while he was peeing” as I was pulling gear from his harness while he was facing away from me pissing. We both still laugh at that scene. The next rock pitch was pretty straightforward and even enjoyable and led up back to the snow and ultimately the Crystal Glacier. We traversed across the Crystal Glacier and bivyed along the NE ridge of the summit, for our first night without running water and we melted about 5 liters of water for what ended up being a pretty late night. We also had to improvise our bivy sites here as there no evidence of prior overnighters, my spot was slightly exposed with about 1000 feet of immediate vertical relief just to my north onto the Hanging Glacier.


The 10th (Sunday) we woke up fairly leisurely around 530am and were off by 7am. I led two pitches starting from the east side of the summit pyramid onto the SE corner route (the beginning was crappy, but then developed into good climbing) to a belay on the main route from which Ken led basically one simul pitch to the summit. While on our way up we did notice quite a shit-show developing on the descent, additionally there was a guided party in front of us and a twosome. We took the obligatory summit shot (first summit I have been on with a flag instead of a register) and then starting going down. We had a long way to go to Artist Point and didn’t want to get screwed by the epic that was unfolding on the descent. We ended up doing one rappel, which while pulling the rope dislodged a rock, which made me decide that the rappels are just not going to be fast and safe enough, thus we downclimbed everything. One the way down we discovered it was a group of ELEVEN plus whoever else was caught behind them (guide, twosome, etc), who were waiting to get through a single rappel station. Small rant to follow: ELEVEN people are too many to bring on a climb, it’s the weekend, we expect it to be busy, but to bring that many people on a popular route with one group is dangerous. The hazard to downclimb solo was so much less (and faster) than waiting for that line to punch through. I really felt sorry for the guide who was moving fast and smooth with his two clients but ended up getting stuck there without the ability to get past and had to endure what probably felt like an eternity of time to get past it. Of all of the dangers we faced on the five days, this was the most frustrating because it’s avoidable and there’s not much you can do to avoid it if you’re stuck in it. Please don’t bring that many people on a popular route or go on a Wednesday when you don’t have that maybe people out there. There were several other parties behind us that were all continuing to pile up on the shit-down descent. Rant complete.


We descended Fisher Chimney and made the trek out. It sucked. Our feet were smoked from the descent (or the five days of climbing/hiking and from Olympus) and it was probably the most pain they had ever endured. We ended up scrapping Mt Baker’s North Ridge for another time and instead got $30 of Jack In The Box at 11pm in Bellingham and with a 5-HR ENERGY made a quick ride back to Everett after picking up two bikes from two trailheads.


Final thoughts:

Not making the saddle on the first day cost us a tremendous amount of time, but since we had planned for a fluff day (specifically for the uncertainty of Nooksack Tower) it worked out just fine. Future parties with this objective must make the saddle or begin the glacier travel and couloir ascent very early and in the dark in order to avoid an epic descent or bivy on route. There are no bivy spots along the route, but now there are two excellent spots on the summit, in case you’re interested.


There is a free iPhone on the Price Glacier somewhere, it’s got some good pics and some phone numbers in case you find it, I’d like it back. Reward upon delivery.


We ended up going through middle of the gut of the Price Glacier. We had seen that the route would also go up the left side, hugging pretty far left. This would have been longer (liner distance) plus would have added a lot of slow dangerous steep traversing terrain, not to mention it might not have even gone. We had planned on going left, but then saw was looked to be a weakness in the middle and opted for that over what might have been a more sure bet on the left, and took us in the middle. While it was extremely fun, I think the most fun of the route, it was also the probably the most dangerous with lots of broken, fractured, overhanging, and unstable snow and ice blocks everywhere. We saw and heard none of this move while we observed on the approach, while on Nooksack, or on the climb, and we climbed through it very, very fast and set up a belay in a safe spot. Food for thought for discussion or for any future climbers.


The bivy on the NE ridge of the summit pyramid was stupid. My misinterpretation of the map and lack of prior experience and understanding of the Shuksan Massif led me to believe we were in a different area than we actually were, and we wasted a lot of time/energy on that bivy. It ended up being a neat place, and went along the same lines of our trip, but we thought we picked a good spot and we flat out didn’t.


The massive cluster on the descent is documented above.


Our feet were smoked, but the traverse along the Ptarmigan Ridge to the base of the NR of Baker would be a great approach (maybe longer and more complicated than from Heliotrope) and it would have been awesome to have traverse from the Nooksack TH to Heliotrope TH. Has anyone done this or heard of this being done? I also think the NR of Baker would almost be a letdown after Nooksack and Price, so I don’t feel we really missed out on too much.


We had mammal issues on the summit of Nooksack Tower and on the NE side of the summit pyramid – amazingly those are the two areas where there were probably few if any previous overnight stays… On Nooksack Tower something ate part of my sunglasses – WTF.


I would like to thank Ken for flying out from SC and bringing with him enough experience and ignorance to agree to the aggressive itinerary that I laid out and being sporty enough to make it happen. I would also like to thank JasonG for his TR from last year for inspiring me to go after this and providing lots of good beta; as well as all the other folks who have written about the Price Glacier and Nooksack Tower routes as I reviewed probably everything I could find on the internet about the two routes.



-Single rack 0.3 to 3 camalots. Used all.

-3x 13, 16, 19cm ice screws and a 22cm screw for v-threads. Used all.

-2x 9.2mm 60m ropes. Used both, both are retired after this trip due to core shots on one and simply aged and acceralted use, I was very surprised the amount of abuse the ropes took on Nooksack Tower. The broken rope made for fun training weight on the rest of the climb.

-4x pitons (3 KBs and 1 LA), used all, then dropped, would have liked to have had later.

-About 8 nuts, used most.

-We ended up leaving a lot of our neutrino cam racking biners on the rappel stations on the descent.

-I used duel vertical front point cyborg crampons, Ken used sabertooths – both seemed find with no issued. I would agure for the snow/ice aluminum would have been fine but the rock sections would have eaten up the aluminum point.

-I had a 30 degree down bag with a half pad and Ken had a 20 degree bag with a full pad.

-No tent, no bivy sack, none required.

-We each had one whippet, one lightweight trekking pole, and two technical tools and in every condition of travel we had an ideal combination of the above items.

-Shorts made the approach on day one and descent after Fisher Chimney more enjoyable.


Some weird numbers:


FA for Price and Nooksack were in ’45 and ’46 (both by Fred Beckey). If both routes average 1.5 ascents per year that’s about less than 100 ascents of each route, compare that to

-Over 500 people who have been in “space” and 24 who have left earth’s orbit.

-Over 4000 have summitted Everest (over 200 have perished on Everest)

-246 have summitted K2

-157 have summitted Annapurna.


It’s awesome to have this set of objectives in our backyard.


Photo’s are being edited and will be added later, if someone finds my phone we can get those pics on here too …

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Hey Dave - my wife and I were the twosome on Shuksan. Got a few pics of you (links below). By the time we waited for you two to get down the gulley so we didn't knock anything down the party of 11 was thinning out. By the time we got to the rap station the last of them just pitched off when we got there. Thanks for tapping that nut out :)


Mt Shuksan pics

Mt Shuksan pics

Mt Shuksan pics

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Likewise, that was a great summit pic you took of us. Feel free to snag them off my FB page. I can send full size ones as well.


Now that I think about it, that person leading the group of 11 up Shuksan this weekend caused us a safety issue months ago on another climb. On a great weather day on a popular rock on a 3-day holiday weekend. Our first outing on our own learning trad leading on Midway in Leavenworth we started up early on cold rock, hands numb, they show up after us and while we are waiting for the rock and our hands to warm up a bit and we had a new leader on her way up first time after recovering from a broken wrist in a fall last year, he got her flustered with his badgering wanting a couple routes all day for his group of students and she opted out. Left us with 3 on the top of the 1st pitch and we had to bail out.

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Great TR, was thinking about heading up price next spring but with skies to make the descent more enjoyable...surprised it was still in condition this late into the summer.


Nooksack Tower is also on my hit list...glad to see you were able to tie them both into one trip!

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Nice! My second trip to the cascades and we did a similar outing as yours in 3 days. After getting way off route on the approach to Price lake, we bivied at the lake , then did N ridge Nooksack, bivied at the base of it afterwards, then did Price on a day that got up to 100 degrees in Seattle! Summitted and all the way out to lake Ann where I left my bike. Drove back to Portland arriving at 3am, and worked the same day. Ouch, I know your pain. Labor Day weekend 1988.

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